Celebrate! Recognizing our wins is a key part of our growth journey. No matter how straightforward the Growth Path looks on paper (or online), growth is a messy, loopy process. We celebrate our wins to recognize our progress, and to sustain us through the loopier and messier parts of the journey, so that we keep going and keep growing. Remember to celebrate milestones!
I have a confession to make. I’m terrible at celebrating my “wins.” In fact, I even struggled to write this blog post. Why? Because even though I know the importance of celebrating our accomplishments, historically when I’ve achieved a goal I’ve responded in one of three lackluster ways:
1. Who has time? “I have too much to do / too much going on.” Therefore, “I can’t possibly take time out to celebrate.” (Sound familiar?)
2. But I’m not finished! Alternatively, I may breeze right past a milestone without more than a perfunctory acknowledgement because I’m so focused on the end game. It’s more of a “Check! Done. Now let’s keep moving to the next thing I need to learn/do/accomplish to get to the ‘real’ (ultimate) goal.”
The “Who has time?” and “But I’m not finished!” mindsets may sound and feel different, but the result is the same. We spend so much time racing from one thing to the next that we don’t take time to stop and really acknowledge our accomplishments.
3. What is there to really celebrate? I have another little confession. I can be an absolute genius at diminishing my own achievements. Yup. It’s like having the worst superpower of all time: I am Minimizing Woman! Faster than a speeding bullet and able to crush myself in a single bound. Here’s how it has historically played out: I set a goal, something I really want: a promotion, a certification, developing a new skill, etc. Once I have achieved my goal, rather than thinking, “Excellent! Way to go! You got this!”, I hear that little voice in my head say, “Huh…Well, if you could do it, how hard could it really have been?” Ouch!
One of my most memorable “ouch” moments came in college, and it still stands out as one of my most poignant reminders of when I failed to celebrate a win.
Phi Beta Kappa is a prestigious academic honor society in the US, and I really wanted “in.” I worked toward this goal throughout college. When the time came to apply, I was on pins and needles wondering if I’d be accepted. So, you can imagine I was absolutely thrilled when I finally received my acceptance letter, at least initially.
Then, things started to shift. I vaguely remember a ceremony and receiving the symbolic golden key, but by then my Groucho Marx gremlin was already in full swing. The comedian Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Obviously, Groucho’s comment was meant to be funny. (That is what most comedians usually intend.) But what if one of the reasons it’s funny is because part of it just might be true.
I began to wonder, “If I could get in, how hard could it really be?” So, rather than celebrate the achievement, I began to downplay it (if not to others, at least in my own mind). Phi Beta Kappa had once been a highly motivating force in my academic life, but rather than celebrate milestones, I quickly devalued the accomplishment, and then pushed it aside until it was almost entirely forgotten. I forgot to celebrate milestones.
Now, I realize the whole Groucho process is an old trick my brain uses to push me to work harder: I set a goal, work for it, and then once I achieve it, I simply discard it and go in search of the next “ultimate goal” where I can finally prove myself (mostly to myself). Short-term, the trick worked. Therefore, Groucho was reinforced and came back time and again. Long-term, however, that little voice eroded my confidence and made me less likely to take risks.
There are so many better ways to motivate ourselves, build our confidence, push outside our comfort zone and, as a result, accomplish more than we ever thought possible. One of those ways is to Celebrate milestones!
My husband Nicolas, for example, is far better at celebrating than I am. So, I encourage you to take a page out of his playbook. Genuine and joyful, Nicolas’s personal motto for life is simple: “Every chance to celebrate is an opportunity to be taken.” I have truly learned so much from him.
While I may never completely eradicate that little Groucho Marx voice, with practice and wisdom I’ve learned to confront it, manage it, and then (quite skillfully, I think) tell it to go “stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
Celebrate to Feed & Sustain Growth
So, why should we really celebrate milestones? When we talk about celebrating milestones, it’s not just because it’s a “nice” thing that we “should” do. Celebration and recognition of our progress play a crucial role in our growth journey:
Motivate to Keep Going. First, celebrating milestones along the way reinforces the work and effort we’re investing in our goals. In some areas of life, we naturally see tangible results from our efforts. In fact, a tangible result was one of the main reasons I liked to mow the lawn as a kid. I could look back over the lawn, and very clearly see the impact I’d made by how much of the grass I’d already cut. It was immensely gratifying. Moreover, I could also see exactly how much work I had left to do, and the closer I got to the end, the more I was inspired to push toward that finish line.
Progress in our careers and many other areas of our lives is often far less tangible than a neatly trimmed lawn. Slogging uphill with no end in sight, or even distance markers to track how far we’ve come, can be demoralizing. When we celebrate our milestones, we make our progress more tangible, and that motivates us to keep going.
Fight Change Fatigue. Change fatigue is a “nice” way of talking about the stress, burnout, and passive resignation people experience as a result of continuous change. Especially when those changes feel unfocused, overwhelming, and show no clear signs of really improving the work and lives of the people impacted. We tend to crave at least a modicum of stability in our lives, but in a world of constant change we often struggle to find it. Celebrating our wins encourages us to stop, if even for a moment, look back at the progress we’ve made and recognize how far we’ve come. These moments provide an anchor in a sea of uncertainty, and the encouragement to keep going. Celebrating helps us not only recognize our progress but our ability to make choices and take actions that have real impact.
Inspire Next Steps. Celebrating what we’ve achieved is not just an opportunity to reflect back, but a time to use this celebration to inspire our next milestone: Where are we with our overall goals? Are we on track? Have our goals changed? What do we want to sustain, and where do we need to realign? Celebration is fuel that inspires us to ask, “What’s next?”
Celebrations don’t always have to be big fanfares. A celebration could also be a simple phone call or a glass of wine with a close friend who’s been there through the ups and downs along the way. We may celebrate by going out to dinner with someone who supports us and can help us appreciate our accomplishments. If you’re leading a team, you could celebrate with a team lunch. Whether you celebrate together at a restaurant or with take-out in a conference room (or even over Zoom!), what really matters is what you say and what you do to make it meaningful. So that your team feels recognized for their contribution to the achievement.
Now that I’m getting better at celebrating my “wins,” I may take myself out for coffee for time to reflect and appreciate, or my husband may take me out for dinner. After all, he is a pro at celebrating. Alternatively, I might buy something more permanent, a token that is meaningful to me. That way every time I look at it, I’m reminded of what I achieved. It’s not so much “what” we do to celebrate, it’s about taking the time to acknowledge our progress and accomplishments.
When we celebrate, we have the opportunity to acknowledge all that we have accomplished on our growth journey so far, and use that celebration as a springboard to keep growing. We achieve a lot more in the process of pursuing a goal than simply accomplishing an objective. Celebrating is an acknowledgement of the entire process we go through along our Growth Path. We:
- Commit to something that is truly important to us.
- Set a Vision and Make a Plan. Then we flex with the plan as we encounter obstacles and opportunities, and we trust our vision will get clearer as we get closer to our goal.
- Experiment, get messy, and learn to Manage Resistance (other people’s and especially our own).
- Reflect & Debrief, determine what may need to change, and what we need to hold onto.
- Apply & Adapt what we’ve learned as we continue to push forward.
We have so much to Celebrate on our Growth Path. It’s important to acknowledge all that we have done, and how far we have truly come. We can then continue to build on all that we’ve created. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Yes, AND sometimes those giant shoulders on which we stand are our own. We not only build on the work and success of others who have come before us, but on who we have been, and all that we have already accomplished. So, Celebrate Milestones, Sustain, and Keep Growing! Your future self will thank you.